January 24, 1994 (35th Parliament, 1st Session)


Monte Solberg


Mr. Monte Solberg (Medicine Hat)

Mr. Speaker and hon. members, first of all I offer my sincere congratulations to all who won election to the House of Commons. To serve as a member of Parliament is a great responsibility and a great honour.
Mr. Speaker, yours is certainly a double honour. You were honoured by your constituents in Edmonton in becoming a member of Parliament once again and of course now by your appointment as a Speaker of this place. Please accept my congratulations.
To the government and to the Prime Minister in particular I extend my wishes for every success in solving the problems that stand before us. They are problems that really cut across party lines, provincial boundaries, cultures, genders, institutions and even the generations. If we are to solve these problems it will require the best efforts of all Canadians. It is my sincere hope that we will all together apply ourselves to that task.
To the people of the Medicine Hat constituency I give my gratitude for the warmth, friendship and support they have shown toward me as their member of Parliament. I thank them for the great trust they have placed in me as their servant and representative to the Government of Canada.
I begin that job by offering advice to the government on its intention to bring reform to the unemployment insurance program. The government is to be commended for recognizing that unemployment insurance as it is presently constituted is a destroyer of jobs and a ravager of initiative. Likewise, the government is correct in asserting that more emphasis must be placed on improving training and that business should play a major role in providing training.
Who could know better than businesses themselves what skills are required for their future success? Certainly not government. I am concerned, however, when the Prime Minister talks about a training tax to coerce business. If the government would instead cut spending and ultimately lower taxes one could be sure that business could provide its own training because it is in the best interest of businesses to do so. Nonetheless, simply recognizing that a problem exists is the first major step in resolving it. For that alone I give the government full marks.
I am also profoundly concerned when the government fails to outline the process by which it will shape the unemployment insurance program of the future. It is no exaggeration to say that the present unemployment insurance program has not only failed Canadians, it has wounded us. In ignoring pleas for change from both businesses and those people who are sincerely looking for work we have cut the soul out of entire regions of the country. If this is the type of help that comes from government then Canadians should run from government as fast as they can. On the other hand, if the government is prepared to share the decision-making power to involve those who fund the program, to design it for the long run to ensure that it is in line with what other levels of government and the private sector are doing, with the current fiscal reality, if it is prepared to set clear measurable objectives, if it is committed to making the program more accessible and user friendly, if it is committed to promoting equal access and benefits for all, if it promotes and rewards personal responsibility and initiative, if it commits itself to following that process in designing an unemployment insurance program, it will succeed beyond our greatest hopes. Contrarily, if it is a program that is designed and implemented and controlled solely by government, it will fail. If it invites greater public input but then ignores that input, it will fail. In failing it will again crush the initiative of the unemployed and business creating economic and human carnage of tragic proportions.
Specifically how should we go about redesigning the UI program? The first decision-making principle is that all stakeholders must have a voice in designing this program. That includes business, particularly small business which pays most of the premiums. It should include of course the workers who pay into the fund. It should include the federal government as an adviser and a junior stakeholder. Although this may seem obvious, governments I find often ignore this advice. The process should not include those groups which have a vested interest in not resolving the problem.
It is a great truth that incentives matter. If a group or an individual receives funding so that they can protest high unemployment levels do not expect them to propose solutions that will make their position or group unnecessary. Even though they are often well-meaning and claim passionately that they want to solve the problem, I point out that they have a powerful economic incentive to perpetuate the problem. These two competing forces can never be completely disentangled.
The second principle is that decisions must be made with the long term best interests of the country in mind. Too often decisions are made without considering their long term implications.
In 1971 the Liberal government chose to regionally extend unemployment insurance benefits. Today we reap the rotten fruit of that hastily planted seed. Governments must always consider the effect of their decisions over the long run.
The third principle is that decisions should always be made with complete awareness of the current environment. By that I mean the current economic, social, cultural and political environment, both within and without the country. Unless we are all pulling together in the same direction on every front even the best designed programs will ultimately fail. Today's environment is one of tight fiscal constraints, freer trade and greater public participation in the democratic process. A newly de-
signed unemployment insurance program must be sensitive to this and reflect these trends in its design.
The fourth principle is that all government programs must have clear measurable objectives. What is the point of designing a program whose effects are not measured or cannot be measured because the objectives are never made clear? In those instances when the effects are obviously counterproductive why have a bureaucracy? Why even have a government if it will not fix the problem?
For 20 years the evidence against high benefits, regionally extended benefits and training boondoggles has been mounting. Every government in that 20 year period has cowered from fixing the problem.
The fifth principle is that all government programs must be designed to be user friendly. Today the myriad programs offered by human resources development are hopelessly complicated. As one field level bureaucrat told me: "Our job is to make poorly designed programs run efficiently". What a damning indictment of the system that is.
In the introduction of the 1985 Forget commission report there is a touching letter from a lady who decries how hopelessly complicated getting a UI benefit can be. Sadly that is still true eight years after that report was tabled.
Governments' failure to solve problems can be traced back directly to the process by which they make decisions. Without public input in the design of these programs they will never ever be able to respond to the needs of the public.
The sixth principle is that all government programs must always treat all Canadians the same. Choosing to live in a particular area of the country should not be a reason for receiving greater or longer benefits. The government must recognize that in attempting to correct what are sometimes inequities in the natural resource wealth of the country it only succeeds in corrupting the human resource wealth of the same area of the country it originally set out to help.
That is the malady of large tracts of Atlantic Canada and it is the legacy of a government that did not understand that government has its limitations.
The seventh principle is that all government programs should promote and encourage personal responsibility and initiative. Of course this should be demonstrated at the top by giving business and employees the responsibility for setting premiums and determining benefits. Those premiums will reflect more accurately than any government decree what businesses and employees can afford to pay in premiums and pay out in benefits while maintaining and strenghthening the viability of businesses and the purchasing power of employees, thereby strenghthening the economy.
Those who are chronically unemployed because they lack experience or training should be the beneficiaries of an integrated program of training and income support provided jointly by the provincial and federal governments. That, however, is a speech for another day.
Before we can reform unemployment insurance or social programs or anything we do in government, we must first reform how we make decisions including all the stakeholders looking at the long run, being aware of the current environment, having clear measurable objectives, designing programs to be user friendly, treating all Canadians equally, encouraging personal responsibility and initiative. This is the framework within which unemployment insurance should be reformed.
The $20 billion Canadians spend on unemployment insurance is not play money. It is not the government's money. It is the product of the hard work of millions of Canadians. It is their money. It is their right to have a say in how it is spent. If we respect that most basic right we will produce a responsible and sustainable unemployment insurance program. If we respect that right in all of our deliberations we will have a government that works within its limits and lives within its means.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Speech From The Throne
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